Former Ag Secretary Glickman Says Future of Agriculture Looks BrightWed, 07 May 2014 03:55:08 CDT
Former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman didn’t start out life as a farmer, but his service as a Congressman from Kansas and in President Bill Clinton’s cabinet set him on a career-long course of influencing agricultural policy. He now co-chairs a group called AGree. The group seeks to identify challenges confronting the world’s food and agricultural systems and form a consensus on how best to meet those challenges.
He recently spoke to Radio Oklahoma Network Farm Director Ron Hays in Washington, D.C. (You can hear their conversation by clicking on the LISTEN BAR at the bottom of this story.) He said he came to the work that defined his service on Capitol Hill in a roundabout way.
“Actually the heart of my Congressional career was agriculture. I didn’t start out planning it that way because I was from Wichita and my dad wasn’t in farming or agriculture, but it became the most important subject I dealt with. I was able to continue it through the secretary’s job and I’m still involved in a global food security initiative with the Gates Foundation with AGree which is a multi-foundational initiative to promote food and agriculture and I speak out on a lot of food and agriculture issues.”
He says AGree is a place to bring all types of agriculture interests together from the largest corporations to the smallest farmers to try and find some common ground and purpose to agriculture. Some of the issues they are currently tackling include how to get more funds allocated for research, how to get more young people interested in farming and how to build more sustainable communities. He says AGree tries to stay away from more controversial issues and did not get involved in the farm bill debate.
“Most of our stuff is how to build discussion and dialog on food and agriculture nationally.”
One of the more controversial issues that AGree has been forced to address, however, is the issue of GMO crops. They are ever-more prevalent with each passing season, yet there is still a tremendous amount of debate about their safety and necessity to modern agriculture, Glickman says.
“Both sides on the GMO issue tend to think Providence and the Good Lord is on their side. So, the pro-GMO crowd thinks like ‘Without this we are going to fall apart and won’t be able to produce anything for the future.’ And the anti-GMO crowd thinks this is a conspiracy for big agriculture and is going to hurt our health.
“Well, the truth of the matter is we need genetic engineering as a part of science. Science is going to help solve a lot of our problems including how to deal with drought and disease in agriculture and nutrition of crops and those things. At the same time, it’s not the only answer to agriculture.”
Getting more young people into farming is also a topic that generates a lot of healthy discussion, according to Glickman. He says that just as plastics looked like the wave of the future in the 1930s, the enormous economic potential of producing enough food and fiber to feed nine billion people will inexorably bring young people into agriculture.
“The good news is, long-term, agriculture looks great.”
He said the fact that a burgeoning number of consumers will be demanding an ever-greater supply of nutritious, safe, and healthy food will simply prove to be an irresistible force from an economic point of view.
“So, I’m convinced that we can meet these needs and in the process have a lot financially healthier agriculture in the future than we had in the past.”
Glickman said that governments are becoming less and less influential in the food debates and corporations such as Walmart are proving to have a controlling interest. Their drive to provide their customers with what they want at the lowest possible prices will is turning the old order on its head.
For example, he says, “Walmart just decided they’re going to grow sustainably and they’re going to package sustainably. That could change the world of agriculture more than anything the U.S. government does. So there are new forces in the world and we just have to learn to adapt to that as best we can.”
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